SEATTLE — The maker of OxyContin asked a federal judge Monday to toss out the city of Everett’s lawsuit against the company.
Everett’s attorneys allege that Purdue Pharma knew its painkillers were being diverted into the black market, causing what the city describes as an epidemic of drug abuse. Purdue’s lawyers say there is no proof linking the manufacturer to outcomes at the end of a lengthy supply chain.
U.S. District Court Judge Ricardo Martinez did not make an immediate ruling. The case carries some of the same legal questions as court battles involving agrochemical corporation Monsanto and the producers of cigarettes and firearms, he said.
Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson accompanied the city’s attorneys at the front of the courtroom. In the audience also were leaders from the Everett Police Department as well as several City Council members. The contingent included Cassie Franklin and Judy Tuohy, who are running for Stephanson’s seat.
In a press conference after the hearing, Stephanson reiterated the city’s arguments that Purdue should be forced to help pay for recovery efforts, such as treatment and supportive housing. He declined to estimate the compensation that might be sought.
The answers to the opioid crisis still are getting figured out, and Purdue needs to be part of the solution, he told reporters.
“Our city has been significantly damaged …” Stephanson said. “What are we going to do to help those who have really serious addiction problems?”
Throughout the time now under scrutiny, Purdue has complied with federal regulations from the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Food and Drug Administration, said Patrick Fitzgerald, the company’s Chicago attorney. The regulations were designed with the risks of painkillers in mind, along with the benefits for patients who suffer serious ailments, he said. The company participates in programs that prevent diversion, he said.
“People are dying,” he said. “We take that very seriously.”
Fitzgerald said Everett should have realized something was wrong as far back as 2008 and sought redress sooner. He questioned how damages could be attributed to a single company, when heroin, fentanyl and other prescription drugs also contribute to problems in society.
Everett’s attorney Chris Huck, of a Seattle law firm, said a jury will be shown that the city suffered “enormous harm” because of manufacturer misconduct and negligence. “It was OxyContin that ravished this community,” he said.
The judge said he must consider in his decision whether one drug could be blamed for the harm Everett cites in the form of increased demands on public resources. It wasn’t clear Monday when Martinez will issue a decision.